Sydney's Smart Shop to reopen amid surge in downtown investment
Construction of waterfront NSCC campus drives investor interest
The construction of the new Nova Scotia Community College Marconi campus on the Sydney waterfront is spurring investment in the downtown.
A notable recent development is the purchase of Sydney's iconic Smart Shop Place on the corner of Charlotte and Prince streets, which has been sitting vacant in recent years.
"We see Sydney as booming nowadays," said Ajay Balyan, who recently purchased the three-level building along with his brother, Ankit.
It was a different picture when he moved to Cape Breton from India in 2017 to study at Cape Breton University.
A lot has changed since then, with a boom in international enrolment at CBU and unprecedented public infrastructure investment in the area, including the new NSCC campus, health-care redevelopment and a potential new regional library.
"We know after NSCC, the Sydney downtown is going to be the main spot for the students to hang out or to eat," said Balyan. "And we're getting good support from the community, as well. So we find it to be a good opportunity for us."
Smart Shop Place opened in 1904 as a clothing store and long served as a retail anchor in Sydney. The Balyans plan to rename the building Western Overseas, after their family's business in India.
Construction is underway to convert the main floor into a small food court and the lower level into a fine-dining restaurant. The upper level will become apartments.
The brothers, with family partners in India, have similar plans for the former Cape Breton Post building on Dorchester Street, which they bought last year.
The two also own Swaagat, an Indian restaurant they opened on Prince Street in 2019.
Meanwhile, on Charlotte Street, local entrepreneur Craig Boudreau and a group of partners recently bought four buildings and are negotiating a fifth.
Two years ago, Boudreau purchased the former Jasper's Restaurant site on George Street. It's currently being used as a parking lot, but he hopes to start construction next fall on a multi-story commercial and residential development.
NSCC students will need housing and the community could use more dining options, said Boudreau.
"It's really spinoff," he said. "It's kind of the perfect scenario."